January is almost over and I meant this to be a New Year’s post. However, it is still January so, Happy New Year!
Here are my favorite books from last year. I’m going to keep it simple so that you can peruse my little reviews easily. I’m including a “just the facts” style overview and then one favorite thing I learned or thought was really neat about the book.
Before I jump in I also want to give a shout out to how amazing and helpful audio books have been for me in 2014. There is a lot out there that I want to read but unfortunately right now just sitting quietly during the day for an hour or so on a daily basis is unpredictable at best. So that time in the car I spend shuttling kids from here to there is perfect for keeping up with non-fiction books. To boot, non-fiction books I read this year were kid appropriate 99% of the time. So thank you Audible for feeding my head in 2014!
The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown
An expert in the fascinating and rather taboo field of shame research, Dr. Brown detailed many findings from her research and her personal life regarding living life in a healthy way in our fast paced modern world. She directly challenged issues of perfectionism and meritocracy abundant in our culture in a disarmingly honest and engaging way. The book is very conversational in tone yet balanced by great research and citation. Both the nerd-tastic and compassionate parts of my personality were well fed.
To give you a taste of the book’s tone, here is a link to her TED talk about the Power or Vulnerability:
In particular I loved a story she shared in her book about gourd painting. As a young child, Dr. Brown’s family lived in New Orleans while her father finished his education. Her early childhood was filled with creative projects and experimental delicious cooking, though her family’s means were modest. Then the family moved to Texas where her parents embarked on well paying careers and a comfortable life. Dr. Brown explains that the creative side of family life was replaced with competitive accomplishments as she and her sister grew up and went to school. At that time, Dr. Brown felt that creativity was a frivolous dalliance and that she was not one of those “artsy types”. However, years later she describes taking a gourd painting class with her mother and how wonderful it was just to make something beautiful. I loved reading about this as it gave me hope; Personally, I cannot live without making stuff, I get very unhappy if I ignore this part of me. To this day I am constantly floored by people who strongly eschew anything creative in nature in their lives. To make something with their hands is somehow contemptible and a waste of time. It is a telltale sign to me they crave to make the world a more beautiful place. To hear Dr. Brown discover that she indeed does make the world more beautiful was quite a beautiful story in itself.
A Whole New Mind by Daniel H. Pink
This book is about the changing landscape of the Western working world from an analytical economy to an idea based economy. Like Brown, Pink is also a researcher who makes his observations and conclusions from a careful examination of data from reliable sources. Pink postulates that in the future, the developed world’s workers will be competing against computers. If a job can be written by code to do a function well (such as simple accounting), then a fair amount of accountants will be out of a job. Creativity will become the key skill with which to compete as, like the industrial revolution, a whole new landscape of work comes into view.
I enjoyed reading Mr. Pink’s thoughts about meditation and labyrinth walking. It made me want to go out and find more labyrinths.
How Children Succeed by Paul Tough
How Children Succeed was a great read. Yup, it is the third research-y book in my Favorite Books list. After much research and interview, Tough reports that it is character that is most predictive of success in life. Character traits such as resilience, curiosity, self control, social intelligence, zest, optimism, gratitude, and my favorite, conscientiousness. He talks about how important failure is for children and the learning process. He talks about the pleasure of figuring things out. He talks about the marshmallow test. The conclusions Mr. Tough describes are not easily applied to our educational system. Building character is not something you can easily evaluate or test in a short amount of time. It requires a different way of seeing things. But I feel he is on the right track. I think this book brings out that a good education is a complex thing that is difficult to reproduce. If it were simple, we wouldn’t need a book like this.
I loved reading about the findings Mr. Tough shared about conscientiousness (paying attention to details). There is indeed a field of study in psychology about conscientiousness but it had not received much attention because the general feeling of psychological researchers was that it would not be a field in which anything interesting would be gleaned. However, there were indeed fascinating discoveries about conscientiousness and success. Though I’ve intuitively felt that conscientiousness is a key to success in a creative field, it was great to read the well researched findings. I was also surprised to learn that there was an attitude against conscientiousness in the field and this detail helped me to see that it really does take out of the box thinking in any field to find something new – even if that means researching something that everyone else in your field has deemed the opposite of out of the box thinking.
10 Conversations You Need To Have With Your Children by Shmuley Boteach
This book was completely based on experience and opinion regarding parenting. Mr. Boteach writes about 10 good subjects to speak about with your children such as “On becoming a person – who, not what, do you want to be?” and “Bestowing dignity – every human being has value and every human encounter is a fresh chance to let him know it.” On an intuitive level, I found it to be a helpful, thoughtful book. It has a lot of examples of his own family experiences as well, so I felt like it was a conversation between parents as well as a book on parenting.
Mr. Boteach is a rabbi and has a great love of classic literature and it shows throughout the book. I truly enjoyed his discussion on thymotic urge and his thoughts on why humans feel they must accomplish much and thirst for recognition and celebrity. He shared this theme as something he grapples with on a daily basis and I appreciated that he felt comfortable sharing his challenges with his children. It showed me that his conversations with his children really were conversations and not lectures.
The Soul of Money by Lynne Twist
Ms. Twist really made a book of how to make healthy connections to money with your values. It helped me put into perspective how money can be a very powerful for good change in the world. Ms. Twist’s perspective comes from the many experiences she had as a fund raiser for the World Hunger Project. I found that her many stories of her international work were interesting, honest and inspirational.
In addition to aligning your spending with your values, I enjoyed Ms. Twist’s message about sufficiency. How much do you really need to be happy? She is honest that poverty is an unhappy place for any human. But past a certain point, how much is too much? She does link this into environmental issues a bit, which I think is great. It got me thinking, are we really entitled to all of the resources that our planet possesses?
The Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson
This is a thinking outside of the box yet comfy for speculative fiction fans book. The first book explores a culture that is set upon by a ruthless world dictator/self proclaimed demigod who is pitted against an unlikely female street urchin. Of course she has the superpowers specific to this very unusual world! It is in the superpowers where Sanderson gets very creative. The genetically inherited super powers come from a body’s ability to metabolize metals in certain ways; some people have super sight, some people have super kinetics where they can bounce off of metal and shoot it into the air, some people can see a moment into the future. There are other powers as well. The dying world is covered with ash, plants are no longer green, flowers are but a dream. The reader is led to assume that the dictator is responsible for all that is going wrong. But is this really true? You have to read the second and third novels to find out. The author takes the rules of the super powers down to the level of physics to make the world seem real and touchable. I liked that Sanderson put so much effort into his world building.
In particular, the ending chapter of the third book gets a standing-O from me. Masterfully done in the third book, Sanderson brings up questions about good and evil, balance, power, godhood and the purpose of religion overall. I loved his philosophical questioning, which was quite unexpected. He brought good meaning to his storytelling.
Pi in the Sky by Wendy Mass
Pi in the Sky is a metaphysical story about the creators of the universe and their children. In particular, it is about a son of the creators of the universe. Written for young adults, I love Ms. Mass from her Birthday Book series. Her stories always paint interesting characters in adolescence as they go through typical adolescent trials and tribulations. This one is no different and explains how the main character, who carries pies from his aunt from one place to another, really has one of the most important jobs in the universe. That and he falls in love. Of course!
The book is full of character humor. I liked the main character’s brother, who is a muse for artists. The brother’s face is always found in his subject’s works in some way. The brother is lovely, caring and helpful but little insufferable and a little bit vain without being aware. Ms. Mass just has a lot of fun with her characters I believe.
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling
Ms. Kaling’s very early bio is just as hilarious as you would expect from The Mindy Project. Just like the main character’s brother in Pie in the Sky, she is brilliant, loving, caring and just a little insufferable and vain, but in the tongue and cheek way in which she is famous.
I truly enjoyed reading about how Ms. Kaling was “discovered” after performing her hit play Matt & Ben, where Ms. Kaling and Brenda Withers played Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. No, I haven’t seen it (yet). But I think it shows Ms. Kaling is a truly fearless lady as well as talented and that something that wacky got her a foot in the door. Yay!